President Donald Trump approved earlier this week the sale of certain lethal weapons to Ukraine, a move that appears to refute the claim that the Trump campaign wanted to assist Russia by softening the GOP platform on Ukraine policy.
The authorization clears the way for the sale of about $41 million worth of sniper rifles and other light weapons systems, according to the Washington Post. Though it does not approve the sale of heavier weapons sought by Kiev, the export license will facilitate the largest single sale of U.S.-made weapons to Ukraine since hostilities erupted there in 2014.
Authorizing the weapons sales also punctures a narrative pushed by Trump critics during the campaign: Trump modified the Republican Party platform on arming Ukraine because of its alleged improper ties to the Russian government.
In the run-up to the 2016 GOP convention, a Republican delegate proposed an amendment to the party’s Ukraine policy platform that supported giving “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine. The amendment was put into the platform, but with language that replaced “lethal defense weapons” with “appropriate actions.”
Trump’s Democratic opponents, spurred on by breathless media reporting, seized on the change as evidence that Trump was inappropriately sympathetic to Russia. In the end, however, the official Republican position remained hawkish on Russia, and Trump has since pursued a far more punitive policy toward Moscow than his predecessor.
The Trump administration has wrestled for months over whether to green light weapons sales to Kiev to enhance the pro-NATO government’s capabilities against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. While the option was generally supported by Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, administration officials also worried that approving the sales would hinder Trump’s ability to begin some kind of rapprochement with Russian President Vladmir Putin.
The State Department has emphasized that Trump’s order only approves, on a case-by-case basis, the commercial export of lethal weapons to Ukraine, not direct sales or transfers. Congress authorized such government sales in the 2014 Ukraine Freedom Support Act, but the Obama administration never exercised the option to do so.
“The United States Government has neither directly sold nor granted defensive weapons to Ukraine,” a State Department official told reporters on Wednesday. “We also haven’t ruled out the option of doing so, and at this point, we don’t have anything to announce.”
Congressional Republicans and some Democrats had been urging the Trump administration to boost military support for Ukraine as part of a larger effort to counter Russian military intervention and cyber meddling.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, cheered Trump’s approval of the export license, saying Wednesday that it “reflects our country’s longstanding commitment to Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.”
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